EDITORIAL: NIS must maintain transparency
To every citizen of Barbados the National Insurance Scheme is an important social security safety net.
It has become invaluable in the many ways it contributes to people’s livelihood across this island. Those retired or the aged and those benefiting from a pension, maternity and invalidity benefits and unemployment relief all depend on the NIS.
The NIS is generally regarded as being sound, well managed and the envy of many developing nations which have long tried to institute similar social security systems. Perhaps one of the key success factors for the scheme has been the tripartite support – government, labour and employers. The respect which it has gained along with its successes over four decades will not be sufficient to ensure its integrity, soundness and growth.
So how the NIS is managed, its approach to investments, the type of technology it employs as well as issues relating to its compliance and audit programmes along with actuarial guidance will be of interest to the general public. It cannot act like most other departments of government since its viability is of the utmost importance to all of us.
That is why we must sit up and pay attention to the comments in the Senate last week by both the Minister responsible for Social Security, Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo and a former chairman of the NIS, Senator Tony Marshall, about the challenges facing the department. Clearly, the challenges impact both internal and external customers and relations of this important state agency.
While there have been suggestions for many years of instituting changes to this department so it can operate in a manner similar to the Central Bank of Barbados, such sotto voce is still clearly still at the idea stage.
So the NIS remains a Government department steeped in the ways and traditions of other such departments. We can only hope that when recruitment of staff for specialized “insurance posts” is required that its management does have a role in determining who is recruited.
At the same time the NIS must deal with issues which its own staff consistently complain about such as persistent lateness by some of their colleagues, despite flexi-time arrangements; resolving problems with a computerized system plagued with problems; and instituting strong systems and enforcement measures relating to compliance and audit.
While the NIS cannot be lenient with defaulters and allow companies and their executives not to uphold their fiduciary responsibilities, the scheme must hold itself to the highest levels of accountability and transparency.
The NIS must remain for the benefit of the people of Barbados.